Stories > Positively Inked
Edwin Pranada is not your average tattoo artist. Since 2013, the Filipino has been helping his community in an unusual way – by giving alopecia patients free eyebrow tattoos, and restoring their self-esteem and self-confidence in the process.
BY SASHA GONZALES
PHOTOS RIA UNCIANO, SHAILINI SALAS VELASCO
hen Edwin Pranada became a tattoo artist in 1995, he had no idea that he would one day be giving alopecia patients eyebrow tattoos. After helping his first such customer back in 2013, the 46-year-old Filipino says that he’s lost count of the number of free eyebrow tattoos he’s given to people who suffer from the autoimmune disorder.
“My first alopecia customer was a 13-year-old boy from Bulacan, a province in the Philippines,” Pranada says. “He had no eyebrows and was teased and bullied by his classmates. He told me that he didn’t feel normal, that he didn’t feel like he belonged to society. So I offered to give him a set of eyebrow tattoos at no charge.”
Pranada doesn’t charge any of his alopecia clients; instead, he tells them to do a good deed for someone else in return.
MAKING ‘NORMAL’ POSSIBLE
Alopecia is a type of hair loss that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles, causing hair to fall out in small, random patches. The condition usually affects the scalp, but it can also cause hair loss in other areas of the body where hair grows. Many of those with this condition lose sections of their eyebrows or both their eyebrows, which can make them feel out of place or self-conscious.
“When I had no eyebrows, I felt ʻnakedʼ. But now Iʼm a lot more confident about the way I look and I canʼt thank Edwin enough for helping me learn to love myself. ”
Shailini Salas Velasco, a benefi ciary of Edwin Pranadaʼs alopecia tattoo services
While Pranada is a trained body tattoo artist, he is also qualified to perform cosmetic tattoos. The ink, tools, and techniques used in body art tattoos are different from those in cosmetic tattooing, because skin on the face is a lot more delicate and sensitive. He says: “I don’t do a generic shape for everybody. I work very closely with my clients and try to tailor their eyebrows to the shape of their face.”
Since being featured on Our Better World, a Singapore International Foundation initiative that shares the stories of people doing good in Asia, he says that he’s received plenty of support from his fellow tattoo artists in Manila. “They liked what I was doing and asked if they could help, but many of them are not qualified to perform cosmetic tattoos.”
So, since November, Pranada began training them to become cosmetic tattooists. The training sessions take place in Makati in Manila. Pranada usually meets his clients through the Alopecia Philippines Facebook group. As of August this year, 16 alopecia patients have registered for his free service; Pranada has also received donations from the public.
Ria Unciano is one of the many alopecia patients Pranada has helped. She saw his Facebook post and decided to contact him. “Having a new set of eyebrows has really boosted my confidence,” says the 33-year-old, who was diagnosed with alopecia when she was 22. “I used to pencil in my own eyebrows, but if I got caught in the rain, they would be washed away.
And if I went swimming, I’d come out of the water without any eyebrows and my face would look strange. I used to feel like a freak or an alien, but now I’m back to feeling like my old self again. I’m brave enough to step out and face the world.”
Shailini Salas Velasco is another alopecia patient who has benefited from Pranada’s service. The 41-year-old got her new “eyebrows’’ in September last year and says that getting in touch with Pranada was one of the best decisions ever.
“When I had no eyebrows, I felt ‘naked’,” says the mum of six. “I couldn’t wipe my face when I perspired, nor could I go swimming, for fear that my pencilled-in eyebrows would disappear. But now I’m a lot more confident about the way I look and I can’t thank Edwin enough for helping me learn to love myself.”
Unciano is thankful to Pranada because he made her feel better about her condition, and, more importantly, because of the way he treated her. “He’s just a good person, he’s like the cool brother you never had,” she says. “He and his wife treated me like a close friend or family member. He never made me feel like I was different. He was so accepting and understanding. He’s a man with a big heart.”
For Pranada, it’s all in a day’s work. “I’m just doing what I usually do because it’s my job, and it’s all I can do, but I’m definitely grateful for this chance to help,” says the Manila native. “It’s fulfilling knowing that I’m making a positive difference in their lives, and that’s good enough for me.”